The escalating violence in Pakistan, while disturbing, is not unexpected. A soldier was killed and several wounded yesterday as militants attacked two military posts in north-western Pakistan where thousands of troops have been deployed to flush out remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Militants also attacked paramilitary forces in Swat in North West Frontier Province, where militants have recently stepped up attacks against the security forces. These attacks come close on the heels of a woman reportedly detonating explosives hidden under her burqa at a police checkpoint, killing 15 people and wounding 22. Although this is the first instance of a woman suicide bomber in Pakistan, it is unlikely to raise many eyebrows in the intelligence community that has been warning that former male and female students of the Jamia Hafsa, the Jamia Fareedia and the Lal Masjid who escaped the army’s ‘Operation Silence’ could carry out suicide attacks across the country.
Having said that, the immediate trigger for these almost daily attacks on the army in North Waziristan and surrounding areas also has a lot to do with the breakdown of the peace deal that Islamabad signed with tribal leaders last year. President Pervez Musharraf endorsed the agreement in spite of criticism from the US that it gave al-Qaeda breathing space to regroup (and possibly plot new attacks on Western interests). So the deal’s recent demise could be fuelling the current wave of violence, as concern spreads that Islamabad is actually sacrificing its stability by toeing Washington’s line. No wonder Pakistan is increasingly becoming a battleground between extremists and what looks like a silent majority of moderates who want a culturally and religiously inclusive nation-State.
The only good news at this point is that General Musharraf appears keen to honour his commitment to the country’s legislature to resign as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) after getting re-elected as president. This is borne out by the official confirmation of Lt. Gen. Ashfaq P. Kiyani as the COAS-in-waiting. It remains to be seen though how the new COAS would choose to deal with the violence in the country’s volatile Pashtun belt, and whether he would continue President Musharraf’s policy if the army continues to bleed so alarming.